OCEAN TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- A Foodtown produce manager here has won national recognition for his special attention to Foodtown customers and for his service to the community.
The Golden Shopping Cart Award for Best Supermarket Employee for 1998 went to Sal Selletto, produce manager at a Foodtown unit here that's owned and operated by Food Circus/Foodtown, Middletown, N.J.
Here's how the "best employee" competition works: Syndicated columnist Martin Sloane, whose "Supermarket Shopper" column appears in consumer newspapers across the U.S., solicits nominees for best employee each year.
Nominations and letters from nominees' customers and colleagues are sent to Sloane, who picks the winner.
Selletto was nominated by Chris Coiner, safety director at another Ocean Township unit of Foodtown. Then, more than 20 customers as well as co-workers wrote letters supporting his nomination.
"I was very surprised when I got this award. I must have fans I didn't know I had. I knew a lot of my customers wrote in, but this is a nationwide contest," Selletto said.
"Sal's very dedicated to his job. He keeps a neat, clean and safe department, and besides that he's friendly and outgoing. He's always saying hello to customers and greeting them by name," Coiner said.
Selletto, who has been with Foodtown since 1971, was featured in a "Supermarket Shopper" column in The Asbury Park [N.J.] Press, a local daily newspaper, when he got the award this spring.
Nominees for the best employee award are judged not only for letters of support, but also for their community service. Selletto's yearly fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association helped win him the honor.
For the past 10 years, Selletto has been producing, coordinating and hosting a talent show that draws participants from all over the region and raises thousands of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The last such show, which Selletto described as a '90s version of television's "Gong Show," netted more than $10,000.
"What's really good is that 100% of the proceeds go the MDA because everybody, including the production people, donate their services," said Selletto, adding that the Wanamassa, N.J., Foodtown store manager, Mike Evans, has helped him organize the fund-raising show every year.
About half of the amateur performers are local residents; the rest are Foodtown employees and customers.
The lineup includes bands, dancers, singers, comedians and karioke singers. One group of Foodtowners turned the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" into "Grocery Man" and sang their own "supermarket lyrics" to it, Selletto said.
Shortly after he was hired by Foodtown in 1971 as a front-end carriage pusher, a position in the store's produce department opened up and Selletto took it. Four years later he became a manager.
"I like produce because you can be creative. You can build mass displays with seasonal items and there's a good opportunity to use point-of-purchase materials. We also use videos that describe and show how to use products," Selletto said.
But mostly he enjoys meeting the customers, he said, and he puts customer service at the top of his priority list. Asked to give an example of how he goes out of his way for customers, Selletto said he sometimes special-orders products for them.
"If they needed something special for a recipe, I'd order one box of it and sell them whatever amount they wanted from it," he said.
Once a customer who was moving asked him if he had any empty boxes. He didn't at that moment but knew he would later in the day.
"The customer happened to live in the neighborhood. So I delivered 12 or 14 apple boxes to him on my way home," Selletto said.
Produce is a big deal at Foodtown stores, he said. "We're carrying 300 to 400 items now. That's double from five years ago, and even the organic section is up to 40 or 50 items now."